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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

Why Arsenal WFC are Conti Cup Champions 2023 - and Chelsea aren't

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Arsenal women have silverware in their hands once again. It's only the day after the Conti Cup 2023 final as I write these words. Arsenal are Conti Cup Champions 2023. Many of our players had not lifted a trophy with Arsenal. Some had in the past - and waited four long years to do so again.

“I joined this club when I was 17," said Captain Kim Little, pre-game. "I think everyone in this club really wants to win this trophy on Sunday but some of us who have been here longer really have that love for Arsenal and want to show what a great squad we have and what a great club we’re at.”

To get the cup, we beat our nemesis: Chelsea.

We didn't just edge it. We didn't get a debatable penalty that tipped the game in our favour. We dominated. They played poorly but that doesn't paint the full picture. Chelsea weren't allowed to play their game. Kim Little literally ran rings around them.

How does a team go from losing 2-0 to Chelsea at Kingsmeadow, to putting on that display of passion and guts and resilience a week later?

I'm not here to talk tactics. That's not my forté. So, this is me delving into the extra je ne sais quoi that may have given our team the edge.

The whole history behind the women's game and the things they still fight for have pushed women players to always reach for more.

Women's football was banned for 50 years. That didn't directly impact any of the current players, but it set back the game in comparison to the men's game - and women players have fought to get back to where they are today.

Alex Scott, not that far removed from the current generation, had to work part-time washing the men's kit when she started, at the semi-pro level. Players that know these legends of the game now must recognise what went before to allow them to play as they do today.

Leah Williamson has spoken about equal access to facilities, to allow the players to do their job to the best of their ability.

This goes back as far as getting girls equal access to football at school, something the England squad is asking for.

Women players therefore often have to push for more and strive for more. Often in the face of online abuse and misogyny, demanding that they fail.

You know what that builds in players at this level? Resilience. An uncompromising mental strength to go above and beyond.

Now, that's, presumably, not unique to Arsenal. Other women's teams have had to face that same fight and have had to show the depths of their passion to reach the levels that they are now, despite those odds. But Arsenal has more to bring to the table.

Arsenal WFC has the weight of its own history to contend with.

Kim Little was interviewed just before the Conti Cup Final. She was direct, to the point.

“Chelsea have been dominant in the last few years and we haven’t picked up a trophy," she said. "We want to get back into that position we have been in before as the dominant club and that feeling that when you play these games that you feel dominant."

Arsenal WFC is the most successful women's club in England. We've won 15 league titles, we've won the FA Cup - 14 times and counting, plus the UEFA Women's Champions League in 2007 too (to diverge from the song). That's one of the reasons players join this club. Winning is part of the fabric of the team, it attracts like-minded players.

Kim is one of those players that knows how it feels to lift a trophy with Arsenal.

She previously went overseas to play in America - and then she came back.

Leah Williamson and Kim Little singing North London Forever, players tapping the badge after we'd won - that's what being an Arsenal player means, what it means to wear the badge. It means that you fight, and it means you show your class with every breath.

These players know the stats they're compared to. That badge carries a weight of history behind it. On Sunday they bore that weight without flinching. Ok, maybe they twitched in the first three minutes - but that was quickly stifled.

We went behind, and we came back, emphatically.

We showed pure mental resilience.

Emma Hayes might be right when she said: "today they wanted it more than us" - one of the rare times that I will ever say "Emma Hayes" and "right" in the same sentence. I disagree with a lot of what she said in her post-match interview, but I could see fire in our players that wasn't there from Chelsea.

We wanted it more than Chelsea, because of the pedigree that we have and know we deserve to show again.

She said they showed "complacency". I don't think they did - I think our team simply showed more mental strength. Maybe, occasionally, teams need to lose a game to build that strength. They need to face a challenge, and come out stronger on the other side.

That doesn't in any way detract from what we achieved. But we fully embodied the sentiment of Wrighty's battle cry, "NOT TODAY, CHELSEA!", in every minute of that game.

Although I have no insider knowledge about contract renewals and discussions, this game felt it had more riding on it than simply a cup.

It was a make or break game for a lot of reasons - but some players extended contracts last year based on giving Arsenal another chance, giving the club time to prove that it could rise to the top again.

We're currently fourth in the WSL, fighting for our UWCL spot for next season. Viv Miedema said before that she wanted proof of Arsenal's ambitions - and she was visibly emotional from this win.

Last year, she only extended her contract for one more year. “I feel like for me, winning titles with Arsenal will mean a lot more to me than winning them with another club at the moment,” she said at the time.

Viv showed that on the pitch at the final. She wasn't involved in getting the team that silverware due to her injury. But the win - and the manner of the win - proves just how special this team is, even without two of our top goal scorers, and how the club might just be able to carry her ambitions too.

Can you imagine how dominant we'd be if we brought yesterday's powerhouse performance to every game - and then added Beth and Viv back into the equation?

I've saved the best till last: the fans.

This blog is about Arsenal WFC fan culture and fan experiences. Yesterday showed why that's so important. A packed stadium, 19,010 people in attendance. From my guesstimation, two thirds of the stadium seemed to be celebrating at the end.

We were a wall of noise that did not let up. Jonas Eidevall called for support - and we brought it. He knows the importance of the 12th player on the pitch, and we don't take that responsibility lightly.

He asked us to come in droves and make ourselves heard. We did. He didn't need to ask. From the pub, to the fan walk to the stadium, and on throughout the game, we sang and shouted and cheered.

I literally have no voice, I can only whisper today. And I bet I'm not the only one.

The players left it all on the pitch. We left it all in the stands.

We know how much the players love to hear us - and they proved it in their celebrations. Manu Zinsberger and Katie McCabe conducting us and hyping us up. Leah Williamson singing "My heart will leave you never!" at us in the stands. That's what our support means to them.

Arsenal deserves our support through the good times and the bad, because we know that they can bring magic - and they do it with our help.

Groups like the Red & White AWFC and AWFC Home & Away, alongside the supporters' club, are so important to the game and to helping our players win. The players do it for themselves, but they do it for us too.

I'm not delusional, and I realise that this was just one game.

There were a lot more to come this season. But this team has got back its belief. Without Beth or Viv, they thrashed Chelsea and lifted that trophy. Now, we know they can do it, they know they can do it.

Now, we've got more games to play. We've got more to win.

Come on, you Gunners.

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